Newest officers a diverse group Tonight's graduates reflect police recruiting efforts

November 01, 1996|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

Della Myers is trading in her calculator, her pencils, her business suits and her desk for a gun, a badge, a car with a siren and a blue uniform.

Myers, a former accounting clerk at the University of Maryland at Baltimore, is one of 25 recruits in the most racially diverse class to graduate from the Howard County police academy.

The new officers will graduate tonight in a ceremony at River Hill High School and will begin patrolling the county's streets Monday.

"Everything hasn't been peaches and cream; there's been grueling days of training and lots of hard work, but we've stuck together," Myers, 30, said this week after taking one of her last exams. "I'm sure I'll come across people who will look at me and think, 'She's a black woman. Does she really know what she's doing?'

"But I'll deter that," she said. "It's just going to take determination."

This year's recruits reflect a greater effort by the Police (x Department to recruit more minorities by targeting historically black colleges such as Morgan State University and military bases, advertising in minority publications and having officers hand out recruiting information, said Sgt. Steven Keller, a police spokesman.

The new class will bring the proportion of minorities in the department's 321-person force to 17 percent. The proportion of minorities in the county now is about 21 percent -- including about 8,000 Asians and 3,700 Hispanics, groups that are expected to double and triple in size, respectively.

"We're seeing the county's population become more and more diverse, where at least once a week we're getting calls where we need people to translate into Spanish or Korean so we can understand a situation," said Lt. Gregory R. Scott, the academy commander. "We need qualified people with diverse backgrounds to meet the citizens' needs."

The class includes seven white men, five black men, two Hispanic men, five white women, three black women, a Hispanic woman, and, for the first time, two Asian-American men.

They come from such varied backgrounds as mental health worker, college graduate with an accounting degree, the military and security officer work.

New officers make $27,196 a year.

In the past, the department says, it has had difficulty recruiting minority officers. Last year's recruit class, for example, included three white women, three black men and 18 white men.

"When you're competing with other jurisdictions for a limited number of qualified officers, plus the other private businesses around, the competition to get officers is pretty keen," Scott said. "This year, we were able to get a diverse group that will go far."

Many of the recruits agree that in the 36 weeks of learning about writing traffic tickets, making driving-while-intoxicated arrests self-defense and handling a gun, the diversity of the class has been a "mini-lesson of life on the streets," Myers said.

"We've been together every day for five months, and we're prepared for dealing with people of different races or backgrounds," she said. "It's helped to eliminate ideas like blacks fight a lot or Hispanics are loud. We've learned to see people for who they are."

The bilingual recruits already see how much their language skills are needed in the county.

Michael W. Mui, 23, said he has been called in to help translate in at least five incidents during his training.

"The fact that I'm Chinese helps in certain situations when somebody needs to talk to someone of their own kind, not just to translate for them, but to relate," he said. "Often, they seem more willing to talk if they see someone like them.

Mui said cultural and social differences -- such as Asians who often tend not to look directly at someone while conversing -- can make a person uncomfortable and quiet.

"I can bring to the table the cultural background others may not have," Mui said.

Kinza Schuyler, director of operations at the Foreign-Born Information Network and Referral Service (FIRN), said many foreign-born residents of the county don't speak English well and are often afraid to approach or provide information to the police because they don't see anyone of their own ethnic background on the force.

"You can't imagine the terror someone from another country feels if they don't know the language when authorities come to help them," she said. "The person fills with terror not knowing how to express themselves.

"When you've got people from different backgrounds, they usually have more sensitivity and empathy of people in general, and that makes a huge difference when you're policing a community."

Some recruits, such as Tina Jenkins, who was a mental health worker at Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital, say they are expecting challenges in dealing with residents.

"I wanted to take on a job that was not typical of a woman," Jenkins said. "I didn't want to be a housewife or a secretary. I wanted to get out there and show people that a female officer can do anything a male can do.

"I've been looked at as merely a bystander on a scene with other officers simply because I was a female," she said. "People want to yell at a male or deal with male officers, but I'm sure I'll have to divert their attention back."

For Myers, the desire to be a police officer and help other people stems from a family line of New York City police officers and a childhood dream.

"I was always fascinated by their shiny badges and neat uniforms," she said yesterday before the class' graduation rehearsal. "I was always the kid sitting up in their lap telling them stuff. I want to give back now."

Pub Date: 11/01/96

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